Friday, June 04, 2004

Pope Greets Bush, Urges Iraq Sovereignty

By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer

ROME - Pope John Paul II reminded President Bush on Friday of the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq and said the world has been troubled by recent "deplorable events," an apparent reference to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops.

Sitting alongside the president, the pope called for a speedy return of the country's sovereignty and said the recent appointment of an interim Iraqi government was an "encouraging step."

Bush presented the pope with America's highest civilian award.

"It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people," the pope said.

In an indirect reference to U.S. troops' abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the pope said, "In the past few weeks, other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all." He said those events "made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values. In the absence of such a commitment, neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome."

Pope's spokesman papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls declined to elaborate on the popes remarks, but did not dispute reporters' characterization that the comments referred to abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. 

How about the Nick Berg beheading and the four Americans hanged and there bodies burned? When the Holy Father said war will not be overcome it leads one to think he was referring to those events.

Calling the pontiff "a devoted servant of God," Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "We appreciate the strong symbol of freedom that you have stood for and we recognize the power of freedom to change societies and to change the world," Bush said.

The president sat stoically as the pope, seated in front of a microphone, read his statement in a voice that was audible, but not easily understood. The hands of the 84-year-old pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, trembled as he addressed the president and first lady Laura Bush, slowly, often one word at a time.

"Mr. President, your visit to Rome takes place at a moment of great concern for the continuing situation of grave unrest in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in the Holy Land," said the pope, who also joined the president in honoring the sacrifices of American soldiers who have given their lives in defense of Europe.

Friday marked Bush's third meeting with the pope since he became president — a measure of the importance both men place on the relationship. The president has aggressively chased Roman Catholic voters since he split the Catholic vote with Al Gore in 2000, and images of the pope greeting him could promote his standing among a group that represents about a quarter of the electorate.

More broadly, it reminds Bush's Christian base that he shares core values with the pope, such as an opposition to abortion.

Also Friday, Bush and his wife were laying a wreath at Fosse Adeatine, the site of a World War II atrocity in which Nazis occupying Italy killed 335 men and boys, 75 of them Jews.


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